A little side note -- For couples who are hosting at a private estate or home in a tent (as Sean and I are doing this September), you might be able to go ahead and skip through the next section of this blog post. However, take a peek at the second section entitled "Transforming a Venue Into a Perfect Fit."
Finding the Perfect Venue
I tell my clients the same thing at the beginning of the venue selection process: Set parameters, do your research, listen to your intuition and visit only 2-3 venues at a time. The key is to prevent overwhelm, so try not to visit every single venue you've come across in your search. It is most likely that there are 2-3 truly viable venues that you LOVE for your wedding!
To find your perfect venue, follow these steps I follow myself with my couples when booking their wedding venues:
1. Set parameters. Create criteria that your venue will eventually need to meet. Answer these questions to create your venue criteria:
- How many guests will you need to be able to host at your venue?
- Ideally does your venue need to have a ceremony location, cocktail reception location, and dinner and dancing location?
- What are the most ideal dates for your wedding?
- Are their parking areas and restrooms on site? Does this matter to you?
- Is the venue close by to hotels and/or a town or city? Is this important to you?
- What is your total budget for the venue, catering and beverage itself?
- What are some additional non-negotiables that your venue must have (ie: dinner and dancing in the same room, must have accommodations on site, etc)?
2. Research. Put together a list of 5-7 venues you are interested in with an aesthetic you love or you feel you can work with! My favorite resources for finding venues are the Venue Report and Style Me Pretty. Style Me Pretty's venue list includes vetted and highly rated venues with a gorgeous aesthetic. And for my brides out there looking for unique venues that are a little bit off the beaten path and outside the box, the Venue Report includes so many unique venues you might not have even thought of! Finally, the Knot is a good resource if you'd like something offering a more broad venue search. Get a little creative with this part as well -- look at venues such as greenhouses, vineyards and historic homes with an option to put up a tent!
3. Make Contact. Email each venue, and follow up with a phone call. Speak with a venue sales manager at each venue, and ask them to send over dates of availability (or check to see if your ideal dates are specifically available), a rate sheet AND sample proposal for your review.
4. Organize Your Thoughts. Sit down with all of your information and begin applying your parameters and venue criteria to each option. Does this venue have your ideal date? Can it hold your guest count? Can it accommodate all aspects of the day necessary (ie: ceremony, cocktail reception, dinner and dancing)? Is it close to nearby hotels where out of town guests will stay? Does fall within budget or very close to it? Can it accommodate all of your non-negotiables?
5. Refine. Which venue(s) meets ALL or almost all of your criteria? Which venues meet the least amount of your criteria? Make a list of the top 2-3 venues that are the best fit, and set the others aside. You can always visit the others later if your top 2-3 don't pan out. Schedule tours with your representatives for all of them, and take notes of what you love and what you don't love as you walk through. Try to visit all options in one day, or over the course of two days.
Tip: Ask any and every question that you can think of during your tour. No question is a silly one, and venue representatives want to answer these questions for you as fully as possible! Being the most educated when making the decision to book a venue will make it that much simpler.
6. Listen to Your Intuition. After your tours, sit down with your fiance and review the options, what you love and what you don't love. Listen to your knee-jerk reactions and intuition. There is most likely one (or two) that you feel the most excited about! If you're deciding between two venues, weigh the pros and cons, and visualize your wedding at the venue. I recommend asking yourself these two questions: Does this venue "feel" like us? Can I envision myself walking down the aisle at this venue or having my first dance at this venue?
Once that venue option just seems to "click" in your head and heart, call your venue sales rep and get your date locked in with a contract and deposit!
Transforming a Venue into a Perfect Fit
For some couples, they find venues that are almost perfect; the venue might be a very blank canvas where everything must be brought in OR the venue might have the right foundation but need some finesse. An example of this is an empty tent, where you have SO much blank space to work with. Another example of this is a venue with an aspect such as carpet you don't love. If you're reading this and feeling this way about your own venue, I know it can be difficult to visualize what can be done to transform your space to fit your vision. But do not fear, there is so much that can be done and ways to visualize to ease your worries!
When Working with a Very Blank Canvas: When you're working with a venue or tent that is very blank, the first thing I recommend doing is having your wedding planner (if having one), venue coordinator, or caterer provide you with an ideal floor plan of the space with your guest count. This will help you see your wedding from a bird's eye view and stop overwhelm in it's tracks! It's like decorating a room in your home -- if you can see all of the pieces outright that you must fit into the room, you can begin visualizing how to make it all fit well and then go about decorating and accessorizing it. Knowing where your dance floor, stage/dj booth, tables, chairs, bars and entryways are going to be allows you to see the space with all of its key components. Expanding your vision from here will be so much easier, less overwhelming and much more successful!
If you wish the venue had something a little more visually interesting, speak with your planner, coordinator or caterer about adding lighting such as chandeliers, add a photobooth, add a backdrop, add statement bars that are focal points or maybe a huge impressive head table. There are endless possibilities so do not be afraid to ASK! From there, start working with your wedding planner, coordinator or caterer piece by piece -- pick your lighting (maybe you want chandeliers or greenery on existing lighting), then select your table shape, then your chair style, then your linen style, then your place setting, then your centerpieces, then your bars and then your entryways (maybe you want flowers, draping or signage by the door for a grand entrance)? Work piece by piece, step back, look at it, finesse, repeat.